Free Resources

Mentoring For Success
Attitudes and Motivation
Communications & Listening
Coaching For Results
Personal Empowerment
Leadership that Inspires
Making Meetings Work
Presentation Power
Quotes that Inspire
Team Building

Thinking Patterns: The Basis of What We Do
By Rich Meiss • Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Motivation Series- Article IV


One of the most recent breakthroughs in the understanding of human motivation comes from the field of Axiology, often called the “science of thinking”.  This science was founded by Dr. Robert Hartman, a research professor at the University of Tennessee.  Dr. Hartman’s work was so significant that he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973, shortly before his untimely death. 


Because he was born and raised during the rise of Adolph Hitler and The Third Reich in Germany, Dr. Hartman became very interested in the reasons why people did what they did, and how someone could see evil as being good.  After escaping Germany and arriving in the United States, he set out to answer the question, “What is good?”  His work led him to the discovery of the Science of Axiology, and he created an assessment tool that helped people understand with exactness their thinking patterns, and how those thinking patterns led them to do what they did.


Dr. Hartman’s work is being carried on today by a number of researchers and practitioners who have refined his materials to be used in a wide variety of applications such as hiring, teambuilding, personal development and coaching.  Because his work was so exact and complex, it was locked up in the halls of academia until the past few years when computers had the power to calculate the scores of his thinking assessment.


Three Distinct Thinking Dimensions


The root of Dr. Hartman’s discovery was in his identification of three distinct thinking patterns.  Hartman called these three categories intrinsic, extrinsic and systemic.  For the sake of simplicity, we will call them the people dimension (intrinsic), the task dimension (extrinsic), and the systems dimension (systemic).  What Hartman discovered is that human beings have different strengths and limitations in the way that they apply these thinking dimensions to making decisions for their lives.


Some people prefer to focus more or less of their thinking on the people dimension, some more or less on the task dimension, and some more or less on the systems dimension.  The results of an individual’s thought process depends on the amount of focus they place on the combination of these three dimensions.  This combination of perceptions reveals how we think, and how our thought patterns differ from others.


By combining these three thinking dimensions (people, tasks, systems) with the two broad categories of thinking – thinking about the outside world and thinking about our self – we come up with six different thinking modules.


Our Six Thinking Modules


External Thinking                             Internal Thinking

(Thinking about the outside world)       (Thinking about our inner world)


Empathetic Thinking                       Self Esteem Thinking

(Thinking about the value of others)     (Thinking about the value of self)


Practical Thinking                          Role Awareness Thinking

(Thinking about task results)               Thinking about our roles)


Systems Thinking                          Self Direction Thinking

(Thinking about rules and order)       (Thinking about our goals/direction)


Just as human beings differ in our physical characteristics, so too do we differ in our thinking patterns.  And just as we differ from one another by how we walk and talk, we can also be distinguished by how we use our different thinking modules.  And it is these combinations of thinking patterns that lead to our motivation and actions – what we do.


The goal in using our thinking patterns well is to keep them in balance.  Unlike the DISC behavioral styles (different does not equal wrong) and the values clusters (all values positions deserve respect), the proper use of thinking patterns is to have them all in balance.  Although this is an unrealistic goal for we mortal humans, by understanding which modules we are more or less attentive to, we can make better decisions and get better results in our lives.  A realistic goal is to understand our thinking patterns so we can capitalize on our thinking strengths and minimize our thinking limitations.


The Three Ways We Think About People, Tasks and Systems Outside Ourselves


The empathetic thinking module:  This module processes people and things in personal ways – through things of the heart.  It helps us judge the unique, irreplaceable value of others.  It allows us to tune into the inner feelings and concerns of others.


Those who are attentive to this thinking module pay attention to the things others care about.  They want others to feel good.  They have a sense that others are generally good on the inside.


Those who are inattentive to empathetic thinking tend to be cautious or suspicious about other’s intentions.  They are more guarded about interacting with others about personal things, and they are not necessarily concerned about others feeling good.


The practical thinking module:  This thinking module processes people and things from a practical perspective.  It helps us understand how to get tasks done, and when something is done well enough.  It is the module that compares one thing to another


Appropriate attention to this thinking module allows people to use good common sense in making decisions and knowing when to proceed and when to wait.  It helps them make the best use of time, money and resources.


Those who are inattentive to the practical thinking module tend to be cautious and see the problems connected with an action.  They ignore political dynamics, and are often resistant to change.  They have a hard time understanding why people need to be persuaded to do things.


The systems thinking module:  This module processes people and things against black and white standards and definitions.  It helps us understand how to value rules, order, structure, conformity and doing things right.


Those who appropriately value systems thinking ask the question, “Is it right?”  They use logic to minimize errors and mistakes.  They learn from the past, valuing the lessons of history as well as the importance of plans and commitments.  They are appropriately concerned with things being fair and logical.


An inappropriate attention to this module can lead to rigid adherence to rules and policies, or to a feeling that rules and policies are not important.


The Three Ways We Think About Ourselves Internally – Personal, Tasks, Systems


The self esteem thinking module:  This module processes our thinking around our own unique value – how we feel about ourselves and our own worthiness.


Appropriate attention to this module creates a sense of “I matter”.  It helps people pay attention to who they are on the inside and what they are feeling.  It creates a sense of courage to be who they really are, regardless of outside pressures.


Those who discount this module ignore who they are on the inside.  They have a hard time understanding and expressing their feelings.  They tend to value other’s opinions more than their own.  They often ignore their own well being in favor of others.


The role awareness thinking module:  This module process our public identity – the roles we play, how we appear, our likes and dislikes, and how we fit and function in the world.


Appropriate attention to this thinking causes people to value their own skills, work status and reputation.  They pay attention to how they appear, and have the confidence that they belong and they can make a difference.  They are aware of how their actions lead to certain responses from others. 


Inappropriate attention to this module causes people to discount their own work, status and power.  They are unsure as to how or why they belong or fit in.  They do not always pay attention to their appearance, and they underestimate how their efforts lead to good outcomes.


The self direction thinking module:  This module processes how we meet our own expectations, standards and goals.  It helps us understand where we are going and what is motivating us to get there.


Attention to this thinking module causes people to pay attention to their future.  They have a good idea of what they stand for and how they live up to those standards.  They are accountable and responsible to their word and their values.


Inattention to this module creates a sense of uncertainty about what the future holds and what people should be committed to.  There is often an absence of personal, internal accountability or responsibility.  Not having a good sense of their own direction, these people often get their direction from others.


You Choose How to Use Your Thinking Modules


If you hold a pen in your right hand while you are writing, you are probably right handed.  You could choose to hold the pen in your left hand and still write, but you may feel frustrated or unhappy with the result.  It may also almost hurt you to write that way – you will quickly get tired.


In a similar fashion, people have different preferences in how they think.  Some people will choose to use certain parts of their brain to do different kinds of thinking more often than other people.  And when you are called on to use a thinking module that is not a strength for you, you may feel like your brain is hurting.


The important thing to remember is that it is YOU doing the thinking – this is not something being done TO you.  You are making the choice about your thinking.  By becoming aware of what we choose to think about in a balanced way and what we either overvalue or undervalue in our thinking, we can make better decisions for our lives.


Relate and Reflect to Overcome Your Blind Spots


According to research by Dr. Bob Smith in Dallas, approximately 95% of our day is spent thinking in automatic ways.  We go about our day responding and reacting to life’s events using our natural thinking patterns.  And when our thinking strengths match up with life’s events, we are generally happy with the results.  But all too often the best approach to a situation eludes us because of a weak thinking pattern.


In his excellent book Discover Your Blind Spots, Dr. Smith suggests two ways that we can minimize the negative effects of our weak thinking.  These two ways include relating with other people to get the best results, or reflecting on information and ideas that we have gained from others when deciding on a course of action.  Let’s look at each of these areas individually.


Most of us would agree that great things usually happen when we get a group of people together in a relaxed setting to discuss ideas and come up with decisions.  Businesses often take a team of people on retreats to spend time reflecting on and deciding on ways to increase business or improve certain parts of the business.  Design and development teams know the power of getting a whole group of people together to come up with the best ideas for a new product.  We could obviously share many similar examples.


Through the study of Axiology (the science of thinking), we are now beginning to understand why this happens.  When we have a group of people thinking together, the strengths of certain thinking patterns make up for the weaknesses of others.  In a sense, all six of the thinking modules are contributing in balanced and appropriate ways – we have the benefit of using a whole brain.  But when only one person is thinking about something, he or she is likely to use only 2 or 3 of the thinking modules that are strengths.  So in a sense, only about half the brain is contributing appropriately to the decision.  (Under stress, most people are likely to only use 1 of their thinking modules, so less than 17% of the brain is contributing to the decision.)


One of the ways to minimize the impact of this limited thinking when we are alone is to reflect on the information or guidance we have received from others.  Rather than simply responding (using half our brain) or reacting (using one sixth of our brain), we need to take some time to reflect on what we’ve learned, what others have shared, what we’ve read and studied, etc. to make the best decision.  While this is not as effective as relating in a whole group of people (where we use all our brain – all six thinking modules), when we are in a reflecting mode we will use as many as 4 or 5 of the thinking modules.  This greatly increases our chances of making good decisions.


How to Make Better Decisions for Your Life


There are generally three ways that we can use this information to make better decisions for our lives and have better judgment.  I call these the 3 C’s of personal development:


C – Capitalize on your thinking strengths.  Most of us have several thinking modules that serve us well.  We are balanced in our thinking in these modules, and attentive to using them to help us get the best results.  By discovering your thinking strengths, you can learn to use them to your best advantage.  For example, my very balanced score in empathetic thinking helps me relate well with people and get good results when working with others.


C – Correct or build up your thinking weaknesses.  It is unrealistic for any one human being to have strengths and a completely balanced approach in all six of these thinking centers.  So the focus of most development training should be to master your strengths and develop up in your weaknesses.  This is to say that we want to be aware of our thinking weaknesses so they do not debilitate us, and we want to build them up as appropriate to get better results.  The goal is to learn how to function effectively in those thinking aspects to which you are naturally inattentive, so that these weaknesses do not neutralize or ruin your strengths.


In my own thinking patterns, I am least attentive to the whole area of tasks – practical thinking and role awareness thinking.  Because of a high need for having things be error-free, for example, I often spend way too much time writing and rewriting material before I am ready to release it to the public.  By learning this about myself, I am now more willing to get things done and move on rather than demanding 100% perfection in what I do.


C - Complement your weaker thinking modules by relating with and learning from the strengths of others.  Find someone who is naturally strong in the thinking areas that you are weak in, and ask them how they do what they do.  And read books and other materials that would help you gain wisdom from the insights of others in how to think more effectively.  Part of my own personal development process has been to learn from those that are task accomplishers – the doers and achievers in life.


Take the time to learn about your own thinking patterns – your strengths and weaknesses.  By doing so, you can learn to capitalize on the strengths, correct (or build up) the weaknesses, and complement your weaker thinking patterns with the strengths of others.  By doing so, you will get more of what you want out of life!


(You may wish to take a comprehensive thinking pattern assessment to understand your thinking motivations.  See the next several pages for more information.)



Applications of the Thinking (and other) Motivational Models


When we know about these three motivators – style, values and thinking – we have a better understanding of ourselves and our own motivations and behavior, and we can better understand others and their motivations and behavior.  Having this basic understanding gives us powerful information to use in a variety of applications, including:


            -    Communications and interpersonal relations

-          Personal and professional development

-          Teambuilding and team development

-          Sales and customer service training

-          Management and supervision

-          Coaching and counseling

-          Conflict management

-          Interviewing and hiring

-          And other people development topics.


For basic training and coaching in interpersonal communications, interpersonal relationships and personal development, we often start with the DISC model to give people a good understanding of how they do what they do.  This model is also useful for applications in teambuilding, sales training and management.


When we get into conflict management, building high performing teams, leadership applications and more, we add the values model to gain a deeper insight into the why of human behavior. 


And when we want to go to the deepest level of human motivation to understand what people do, we use the thinking patterns model.  This allows us the opportunity to look at the foundation of all human behavior and help people utilize their thinking strengths and minimize their thinking limitations.  This model is useful in coaching, personal and professional development, and advanced interpersonal relationship development.


To gain maximum impact in any of these applications, we use a combination of all three models.  In interviewing and hiring, for example, we want a sense of the person’s behavioral style, values and thinking patterns.  By matching the needs of the job in these three areas with the person’s natural strengths in these three areas, we can make excellent hiring decisions.


© Copyright 2008.  Meiss Education Institute.  All rights reserved.


 For more information on the assessments, reports and tools listed below, along with pricing information, please call Meiss Education Institute at 952-446-1586, or contact Meiss Education Institute at


Home | About Us | Articles | Contact Us

©Gift of Ideas. All Rights Reserved.